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What a Trip to Walmart Is Like for Me as a Wheelchair User

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I look at the clock — 3:15. I shudder; my nap was going so well. “Should I go to Walmart or not?” I ask myself while looking at the cat, as if she could answer me. She doesn’t move. I think, “Well, it’s supposed to snow tonight so I can’t go.” Then I remember I have a PCA at 5:30 and the round-trip takes two hours, so I need to decide. I ask the cat, “Lisa, what do you think?” Again, she doesn’t move until I yell her name three times. Then she pops up, so I ask her again, “Lisa, what do you think?” She lays back down. “Thanks, Lisa,” I think, half-jokingly.

I get up from my makeshift nest. “I guess we’re doing this.” My body groans. “God, when did my body get so old?” Now I need to get this body transferred from the couch to my wheelchair. One foot there and one foot there, neglecting to move the footrest. I laugh, “They sure don’t teach this method in physical therapy.” I have to steady myself and remind myself to concentrate. Stand…pivot…and plop down…success. Buckle seat belt, and we’re good! I get my coat, then like a second-grader, I concentrate on my zipper. Living my whole life with one hand that works and one that only grasps after the other hand puts something into it, I have developed a method. The method betrays me, and after 15 minutes and a lot of sweat, the coat is zipped!

I look at the clock again, 3:45. Well, I can get there and back in 1 hour 30 minutes, I just have to go quickly. I rush over to my desk and grab my Bluetooth headphones and my cell phone. I quickly fumble with them to turn them on. I love my music! OK, I’m finally ready to go.

I zoom down the hallway to the elevator. I get in and go down. I burst through elevator doors a little faster than I meant to. Thankfully, no one was in the lobby. I go out to the bumpy area that passes the apartment parking lot. I look both ways and on to Jewett Street. Now I must make a choice — the long way or the short way. The long way is safer but it doubles the trip. The short way involves crossing four lanes of highway at only a stop sign. It’s a hard choice; the shortcut halves my trip but I know I probably shouldn’t. I debate for what seems forever, but in reality, it’s maybe 30 seconds before I have to choose. The long way it is! I do need to be fast, but the traffic is too heavy for a dart across Highway 23.

I turn on good old Lyon Street. It has bike lanes on it, which makes the drive so much easier. It goes the driving lane, bike lane, and a lane for cars to park. I try to stay in that parking lane, I figure there’s the whole bike lane between me and the passing cars. However, lately, it’s been hard to use the parking lane because of all the cracks due to winter. They pull my wheelchair and chew up my airless tires.

Suddenly, my chair comes to a dead stop and spins 90 degrees. I know this feeling, “Damnit! That awful pothole. Every time, Chelsie!” I simultaneously begin my emergency routine. Remove hand from joystick, close eyes, and tuck. I tuck because I had a friend who tipped his wheelchair over and broke his arm after trying to brace himself. My wheelchair comes to a stop and I open my eyes and check out the damage. “OK, no damage.” I trudge on.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m at Walmart. Let the games begin…

I enter the sliding glass door and grab a basket. The door greeter eyes me. I know this look; she’s not sure what to do. Should she help or not? I understand her dilemma. Some people with disabilities get upset and yell at the person trying to help. I just don’t like how she stares at me with this questing look. I would like to say, “It’s OK, I got it.” But chances are that with my speech impairment, it will for sure bring her over and maybe with more concern. So I quickly get my basket and pray she doesn’t come over.

My first stop is the pet section. I don’t want to forget Lisa’s food. I can usually handle this section by myself. Carefully, I start to pick up the cans of cat food. My fine motor skills make grabbing the little flat cans tricky, but usually, I can get them. Suddenly, one falls on to the floor. “Uh oh.” I decide to continue loading the cans. Oops, another one bites the dust. I finish getting the cans loaded. Then I quickly look to see if there is anyone around. I’m all by myself. I would reach down and pick it up, but that requires joggling the big blue basket on my lap. Therefore, I use my foot to kick the cans off to the side, feeling a little guilty that someone must come along and pick them up.

Continuing on my journey, I pick up a few more items: shampoo, body wash, lotion, light bulbs, etc., with no problem. Then I go to the housewares section to get the long straws I use for bottles of pop. They are on the top rack. I know I should ask for help, but it can be such a pain to hunt someone down. I elevate my wheelchair as tall as it goes and get as close as I can to the rack. And then I stretch as far as I can… damn, my fingertips can barely reach the package. Now I must go find a person in a blue vest.

Suddenly, another customer comes down the aisle. Meekly I make my way towards him and politely ask if he could help me get something down. He says yes. I wheel over to the straws and gesture towards the straws. After a few times of having to gesture to the right, he gets the straws. I smile and say thank you. I’ve learned with a speech impairment, interactions like these should be done with as little speech as possible, or else I get a blank stare from people.

My last two items are Spicy Doritos and Diet Mt. Dew. First are the Doritos. I get to the chip section and find the Spicy Doritos and of course, they’re on the highest shelf. I elevate my chair as far as it will go and my fingers just barely reach the shelf. However, I have a very unique method to get them down! I put my fingers through the slats on the shelf from the bottom. I poke the bag of Doritos until it sits half on the shelf and half off. Then I make sure my basket is in place, poke again, and she scores — the bag of Doritos falls in the basket!

Finally, I get to the pop section to get a 24-pack of Diet Mt. Dew. I reach down and grab one, using all my strength to pick it up. Gently I set it down on my footrests, maneuvering it perfectly so that it balances on my footrests. Next, I tilt my wheelchair back and put my feet behind the 24-pack, creating a sort of cradle for the pop. This way the soda won’t fall off when I’m driving down the road. This has happened a few times and it isn’t fun picking up pop cans off the road.

I carefully make my way through Walmart to the check-out lanes. I pass by the ever-expanding section of self-checkout lanes. I’ve tried those and even though I can do it, the worker usually ends up coming over to help me anyway, defeating the purpose. Therefore, I usually go straight to the regular check-out lane. I get in line and use all my strength to set my basket on the counter. I struggle before the nice young man in front of me offers to help me. The cashier behind the checkout begins to scan my items. Thankfully, today I get through the checkout lane without too much difficulty. The cashier even remembers how to put the bags on the back of my chair.

I quickly make my way to the sliding glass doors and head home.

This story was meant to illustrate what a trip to Walmart looks like for one independent person with a disability. All the incidents I included have happened, although they did not occur on the same visit. I wanted to capture the challenges and difficulties I experience during my visits. However, I also wanted to convey the positive things I experience, such as people offering to help me. Also, I wanted to express some of the humor that goes through my head. Sometimes I have a good trip and I have little to no issues. Other times, I have a lot of issues, leaving me very stressed and emotionally drained.

When I tell people about my trips to Walmart and the challenges I have, their natural reaction is to look for ways to help me. I look at the difficulties experience in Walmart and in life in general as something I, unfortunately, must deal with; however, I choose to deal with them with a positive attitude, understanding, patience and humor.

Originally published: November 8, 2020
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